Monday, November 2, 2009

Sunday night science lecture

This week's science lecture featured SCINI - McMurdo's underwater ROV. The original SCINI was pioneered in 2003 using a grand total of $300 of off-the-shelf equipment, including sewer pipe, model helicopter propellers and toy racecar controls. The 2008 version of SCINI remains quite simple and cheap and has been repaired in settings such as inside a tent in a remote field camp. Including high tech cameras and navigational equipment, the newest SCINI is worth about $30,000 (typical for similar built-to-order ROVs). SCINI is 15cm wide, modular, and can travel at up to 4.5 knots to a depth of 300meters. Power and communication is provided by a tough tether with two ethernet (no delicate fiberoptics) cables.
SCINI's purposes include
1) providing a cheap and speedy way to evaluate possible scientific sites. Drilling, blasting, or melting holes large enough for divers can take several days. Local fluctuations in light, temperature, current, etc. can create undesirable nonrepresentative microenvironments. Winter Quarters Bay is very polluted; it contains more PCBs than LA harbor for example. Until 2003 raw masticated sewage was dumped into McMurdo Sound; the pile of sludge resting under the pipe is predicted to remain there for thousands of years before breaking down.
2)making deeper, longer dives than human divers can acheive. During the 1960's Dr Paul Dayton of the Scripps University conducted many experiments involving long-term growth observations of local sea life. These are known as the "Lost experiments" because many of them were below 40m, the current accepted maximum safe diving depth. SCINI can access these sites and collect decades worth of data. Long dives also make mapping of hard-to-access sub-ice areas possible.

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